Artist explored in 'Bullets Over Broadway'

By Doug Cummings

Arizona Daily Wildcat

In the late '60s and early '70s, Woody Allen was known as a hilarious entertainer. Beginning with "Annie Hall" in the late '70s, his movies matured and began addressing more philosophical themes. But most of his films remained funny and the uneasy relationship between art and commerce has always haunted him.

In Woody Allen's new film, "Bullets Over Broadway," he explores that duality and questions the role of the artist.

The setting is New York in the '20s. David Shayne (John Cusack) is an egotistical Greenwich Village playwright who agrees to cast a gangster's whiny girlfriend, Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly), in his new play in order to obtain the gangster's financing.

In the course of rehearsals, David makes other concessions, like rewriting the play to suit the personal wishes of his leading actress, the famous and eccentric Helen Sinclair (Dianne Weist).

Amidst the chaos that ensues, Olive's slow-witted bodyguard, Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), begins offering David writing advice that intensifies the play's drama and meaningfulness.

"Bullets Over Broadway" is Allen's 25th film, and it is a hilarious compilation of boisterous performances (particularly by Dianne Weist) and elegant visuals.

The movie's sets range from garish art deco houses to steam rooms, shadowy bars and ominous waterfronts. All of the sets contribute strongly to the movie's atmosphere and are filmed in dark, rich tones.

Due to the gangster setting, the movie contains noticeably coarser dialogue and more violence than previous Allen films. While the earthiness isn't extreme by today's standards, it gives the film a harsher feel that agrees with Cheech's accusations that David's play is too lofty and "doesn't sound like real people talk."

Chazz Palminteri ("A Bronx Tale") practically steals the movie as Cheech, the unassuming thug who discovers an innate sense of drama. His gruff persona undergoes a transformation from the threatening to the engagingly idealistic.

While addressing the idealism of the artist, Allen also confronts the morality of the artist. A fellow playwright, Sheldon Flender (Rob Reiner) contends that "artists create their own moral universe," but fails in his ability to produce a play or maintain personal relationships. His ineptitude casts a bad light on his haughty platitudes.

"Bullets Over Broadway" is Allen's first independent film, and it's no small compliment to say it's as funny and meaningful as his better efforts from the past.

"Bullets Over Broadway" starts Friday at Catalina Cinemas, 886-0616.

Read Next Article